Citanda: Why Can’t Rome Protect Its Cultural Treasures?

Rome - Colosseum long
Image by kevsunblush via Flickr

In the wake of last week’s chunk of mortar/plaster falling off the Colosseum, Newsweek has an interesting editorialish thing … here’s the last bit:

At the Coliseum, which attracts nearly 4 million visitors per year, pathetic preservation measures like flimsy safety netting and metal braces put in place almost 30 years ago are now inadequate. And a more recent effort—to sandblast the traffic soot off the porous exterior walls in 1992—was abandoned after the city and key sponsors ran out of money. In the meantime, decades of traffic, vandalism, and neglect have taken their toll. “The Coliseum suffers from its 2,000 years of history,” says Adriano La Regina, superintendent of Rome’s antiquities. “It needs constant, intensive surveillance and intervention; it is like a cancer patient with a bad prognosis.” The structure has an annual maintenance budget of just $867,000—half of what the Ministry of Culture says is necessary to save it. Now an emergency restoration plan by the culture ministry is in place, at a cost of $8.4 million. No one knows yet where the money will come from.

The ambitious project, set to begin later this month, again includes a much-needed exterior cleaning and replacement of key support structures—including new metal bands that hold some of the marble in place. Stone archways will be reinforced and safety netting under the fragile ancient ceilings will be updated. The area around the Coliseum will also be cordoned off, and pedestrian traffic near the monument will be restricted in case of further collapse during the work. In 2000, the city of Rome installed a gladiator exhibit on the second tier, complete with an elevator and gift shop. Now, the museum and elevator will likely be removed, and parts of the ancient amphitheater will be permanently closed to the public. Plans to open the third tier and the subterranean tunnel system to attract even more visitors were also in the works before last Sunday’s collapse. Those areas will likely now never be accessible to the public.

The Coliseum is open again, but a quota system is now enforced to control the number of visitors who are in the ancient amphitheater at any given time. This week the city will consider an emergency measure to limit traffic on the busy throughway that passes within a few hundred feet of the building, turning the entire area into a pedestrian island and diverting thousands of cars and buses that pass by each day.

In recent years, the city of Rome has rented out the Coliseum as a venue for special events like concerts to help offset the maintenance costs. But after Sunday’s collapse, all events scheduled for the busy summer season were canceled or moved to other venues. The vibration from loud speakers is simply too risky, according to La Regina. Smaller indoor events were also canceled, including boxing matches in the ancient underground cages and private VIP dinners and fashion shows, which were scheduled to be held on a wooden floor erected above the subterranean tunnels. The lost revenue from renting out the Coliseum will now have to come from other sources.

According to an archeologist for the culture ministry, Francesco Maria Giro, the priorities have now changed. “Sunday’s event was small, but it is yet another wake up call and confirms the need to study the ancient monuments of Rome,” he said during a walking tour of the Coliseum on Wednesday. “A plan of intervention and ongoing maintenance now supersedes everything else.” But until the government realizes that increasing, not cutting, its culture budget should be the real priority, saving Rome’s cherished symbols will be a race against time.

via Why Can’t Rome Protect Its Cultural Treasures? – Newsweek.com.

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